Today’s 10-year anniversary: the most important day in U.S. Soccer history

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Journalists get themselves in trouble when they overstep on pronouncements of historical importance. Truly, it’s easy to get swept up in the cross currents of hyperbole and get pulled out to sea.

But I’ll chance it here and say this: We stand today on the 10-year anniversary of the most important day in U.S. Soccer history.

The United States national team manufactured one of its biggest moments on this date, 10 years ago. Don’t underestimate what a stunning 3-2 win over Portugal that day meant going forward.

It came in Suwon, Korea, where John O’Brien, Landon Donovan and Brian McBride scored in the first half against Portugal to open World Cup 2002. (That was surely the most shocking 45 minutes of U.S. Soccer history; that much we can all agree on, no?)

That match launched the U.S. soccer team’s breakthrough quarterfinal march. (A march that ended perhaps unfairly, blunted at least partially by one notoriously incorrect decision). That was the match that started the U.S. movement beyond also-ran status in world soccer.

Don’t forget, the United States was coming off a brutal performance at World Cup 1998, adjudged 32nd best out of 32 teams. They had escaped as hosts from the first round of World Cup 1994 and had been spanked like the young bucks they were at Italia ’90. So, honestly, who saw this coming, this rise against the established global soccer order?

Twelve days later, another grand moment would be achieved: the 2-0 win over Mexico in World Cup elimination play. More important in the big picture, because it moved the United States into the quarterfinals and helped create critical mass in the burgeoning psychological edge over regional rival Mexico? Perhaps. It was probably a better team performance in athletic terms.

But as historic moment: that match never happens if not for the shocking Portuguese ambush in Suwon. Because, if we’re honest, the remainder of the U.S. first round consisted of an underwhelming (although pulsating) draw with Korea and a full crash landing against Poland, a 3-1 loss with booboos aplenty.

So, the stunner over Portugal gets my vote.

Other “biggest moment” candidates: the day in 1988 (July 5) when FIFA awarded World Cup 1994 to the United States. Or perhaps a November day in 1989 when Paul Caligiuri carried the United States into World Cup 1990.

source:  But I’ll propose that June 5, 2002, was the most important date in U.S. Soccer – over the last 20 years, at very least.

The day was resplendent with Grade A performances from U.S. men, as Arena’s young group, confident beyond its years, dealt a devastating blow to Portugal’s ballyhooed and certainly overly confident Golden Generation.

O’Brien scored that shocking first goal after just four minutes. (He was also force in midfield ball handling that day.) Young DaMarcus Beasley, having never blinked when Arena informed him of an impending start, was a dervish, harassing Portuguese attackers and bothering the opposition with his fast feet going forward. Donovan announced himself to the world by engaging a Portuguese team that suddenly looked sluggish and slow – and perhaps irritated for being made to defend.

Tony Sanneh’s one-on-one defending at right back was flawless for most of the match, and one of his bursts forward provided the cross to McBride that situated his team with a 3-0 lead. In the 36th minute!

And about McBride: what a match that man had, undressing Portugal’s decorated center backs with a brilliant combination of skill, wits and American want-to.  Portuguese goalkeeper Vitor Baia couldn’t hold McBride’s blistering 4th-minute header off a corner kick, for instance. O’Brien was there to clean up. Later, McBride cleverly feinted toward the near post before breaking to the back, knowing exactly where Sanneh was about to drop that critical cross. And that was the 3-0 lead.

How ironic that such a momentous occasion was seen by such a precious few; that match started in pre-dawn hours. So, many sleepy U.S. fans awoke to the stunning news. Either way, the world was awake to a new player in the global game.

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Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.